Research AreasLabor Markets, Wages & Poverty
Labor Market & Living Wages

PERI's research on labor markets, wages & poverty explores conditions for working people and the poor in the U.S. and globally. We focus on policies that will promote an abundance of decent employment throughout the U .S. and globally. These include living wage policies, employment-targeted macroeconomic policies, and measures to support the rights of workers to organize into unions. We also examine the impact of social welfare policies, such as employment and food subsidies, on overall economic well-being. 

A $15 U.S. Minimum Wage Without Job Losses Can Work

Pollin and Wicks-Lim examine whether U.S. fast-food businesses could adjust to an increase in the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 per hour to $15 an hour without having to lay off workers.  They show how, through a four-year phase-in process, the fast-food industry could adjust to a $15 minimum wage without resorting to any layoffs or even cuts in profitability.  Rather, the fast-food industry could fully absorb the cost increases generated by a $15 minimum wage over the four-year period through a combination of turnover reductions along with modest increases in both sales growth and prices.

>>Read "A $15 U.S. Minimum Wage: How the Fast-Food Industry Could Adjust Without Shedding Jobs"

The Job Opportunity Cost of War

November 2014 -- There is a common perception that war is good for the economy. But in a paper for the Costs of War Project based at Brown University, PERI Assistant Research Professor Heidi Garrett-Peltier finds that war spending creates significantly fewer jobs than other kinds of government spending. Stimulating war-related activity, she writes, forgoes opportunities to stimulate other types of economic activities, including manufacturing clean energy, or expanding access to education. She found that war spending over the past 14 years has resulted in lost opportunities of between one and three million jobs.

Read “The Job Opportunity Cost of War”

A $15.00 Living Wage in Sonoma County

September 2014 -- Sonoma County, California will consider adopting a living wage ordinance that mandates $15 / hour for workers employed by the County, County contractors, and businesses receiving economic development subsidies. This detailed analysis of the proposal by Jeannette Wicks-Lim finds that the costs transmitted to the County from covered businesses will equal less than 0.03 percent of its $1.4 billion annual budget. Raises for 3,800 home care workers who provide essential daily care for low-income elderly and disabled adults add the largest cost increase to the County. Still, including all covered groups, the costs to the County of the measure will equal less than one percent of its total Budget. 

>> Read "An Assessment of the Fiscal Impact of the Proposed Sonoma County Living Wage Ordinance"

A $12.45 Living Wage in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

January 2014 -- The County of Milwaukee, Wisconsin is considering a $12.45 per hour living wage standard for businesses holding contracts or receiving subsidies from the county. This study by Jeannette Wicks-Lim shows that this living wage measure will strengthen the County’s ability to support decent-quality jobs in the county without compromising its ability to deliver high-quality services to its residents. The key finding of Wicks-Lim study is that establishing the $12.45 living wage standard will have only negligible impacts on the overall costs of businesses covered by the measure.

>>Read "An Assessment of the Fiscal Impact of the Proposed Milwaukee County Living Wage" 

Creating Jobs through Public Transit Investments

December 2013 -- U.S. transit agencies currently invest about $5.6 billion annually in new buses and trains. In research conducted in collaboration with the Jobs to Move America campaign, spearheaded by LAANE, Jeannette Wicks-Lim measures how many more jobs could be created from public transit investments if they were required to contain a higher level of domestic content than the 60 percent required by the current federal “Buy America” policy. Wicks-Lim finds that when manufacturers source 100 percent of their vehicles’ components domestically, they create at least 26 percent more U.S. jobs. 

>> Download "Creating U.S. Manufacturing Jobs: How 'Buying American' Can Raise the Job-Creation Potential of Public Transit Investments" 

What Would a $10.50 Minimum Wage Mean for the Fast-Food Industry?

September 2013 -- As fast-food workers are joining picket lines around the country, media outlets are questioning how much a minimum wage increase would cost businesses, fast-food restaurants in particular. Jeannette Wicks-Lim and Robert Pollin examine the potential impact of a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage, concluding that an increase to $10.50 would impose only modest costs, and could  meaningfully improve living standards for low-wage workers while avoiding the unintended consequence of reducing employment. They explain how they arrived at their key finding: the average fast-food establishment could fully cover the costs from the $10.50 minimum by raising prices 2.7 percent.

>> Download "The Costs to Fast-Food Restaurants of a Minimum Wage Increase to $10.50 per Hour"

Are More College Degrees the Answer?

November 2012 -- In this article for New Labor Forum, Jeannette Wicks-Lim discusses the important finding that now and into the next decade, more than two-thirds of the jobs that U.S. workers will depend on to earn their livelihoods will be non-college-degree jobs. For the large majority of workers, the key to avoiding—or escaping—the ranks of the working poor will necessarily rely less on whether they have any post-secondary education and more on whether jobs that require no college experience pay decent wages.

>> Download "The Working Poor: A Booming Demographic"

Fighting Mass Unemployment in the U.S. Today

August 2012 -- In Back to Full Employment, a short new book written for general readers, PERI Co-Director Robert Pollin advances a progressive agenda for overcoming the employment crisis in the U.S. today, and for creating a sustainable full employment economy over the long run. The book addresses the issues of government deficits, Federal Reserve policy, and the inflation / unemployment trade-off; the pressures from globalization, immigration and international trade; and the imperative of building a green economy. Pollin also discusses alternative theories of mass unemployment, including those of Marx, Keynes, Friedman and Kalecki. He argues that the biggest obstacle to creating a full-employment economy are political, not technical. Ending the prevailing neoliberal opposition to full employment will require an epoch-defining reallocation of power away from big business and Wall Street and toward the middle class, working people, and the poor, while mounting a strong defense of the environment.

>> Order a copy of Back to Full Employment
>> Read  the accompanying blog,

Can State Policies Work Together to Build a Decent Living Standard?

May 2012 -- The minimum wage and Earned Income Tax Credit are frequently presented as substitutes, or even in competition with one another, because they offer distinct approaches toward improving living standards for low-income workers and their families. Jeannette Wicks-Lim and Robert Pollin put forth an alternative view: that these policies can work in complementary ways, generating greater benefits for low-income workers when they operate in tandem at a high level. Wicks-Lim and Pollin reach this conclusion through an in depth examination of EITC and minimum wage policies at the level of state government.

>> Download “Making Work Pay: Combining the Benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Minimum Wage”

The Job Impacts of Cuts to the Food Assistance Program

March 2012 -- In this study, commissioned by the center for American Progress, Jeffrey Thompson and Heidi Garrett-Peltier consider cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps) that threaten to be included in a 2013 federal austerity budget. They find that not only would significant cuts put millions of families at risk of hunger, but large numbers of jobs would be lost, particularly in the grocery sector and other food-related businesses.

>> Download the full report, "The Economic Consequences of Cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program"
>> Download the report summary

How to Create 19 Million Jobs and Push Unemployment Below 5 Percent

December 2011-- Robert Pollin, James Heintz, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Jeannette Wicks-Lim show that since 2009, U.S. commercial banks and large nonfinancial corporations have been carrying huge cash hoards and other liquid assets, totaling $1.4 trillion. Small businesses, by contrast, have been locked out of credit markets. The authors examine the impact on job creation of mobilizing these excess liquid assets into productive investments, finding that U.S. employment could expand by about 19 million jobs by the end of 2014, with unemployment falling below 5 percent. The paper discusses policies to transform these hoards into job-generating investments, both for the national economy and, specifically, the Los Angeles and Seattle regions. 

>> Download "19 Million Jobs For U.S. Workers: The Impact Of Channeling $1.4 Trillion In Excess Liquid Asset Holdings Into Productive Investments"

Is Military Spending the Right Route to Jobs? An Updated Analysis

November 2011 -- Given the recent attention to potential cuts to the federal defense budget, Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier revisit their assessment of the employment-creation potential of military spending. As in the previous editions of this study (2007 and 2009), they find, unequivocally, that government spending on the military is a far weaker engine of job growth than are investments in clean energy, health care, or education, and is even weaker than spending the same amount on household consumption. Pollin and Garrett-Peltier also find that alternative productive investments create a much larger number of jobs across all pay ranges. 

>> Download “The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities: 2011 Update” 

Wal-Mart Makes the Case for Affirmative Action

September 2011 -- Jeannette Wicks-Lim's column in Dollars & Sense explores the class-action case over Wal-Mart's affirmative action policies. 

>> Download "Wal-Mart Makes the Case for Affirmative Action"

Creating Jobs by Building Infrastructure for Bikes and Pedestrians

June 2011 -- The benefits of pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails—reduced congestion, better air quality, safer travel routes, and improved health outcomes—are well documented. But in this study, Heidi Garrett-Peltier examines another dimension of these public investments: the employment impacts of building and refurbishing this infrastructure, as well as construction and rehabilitation of roads without cycling or walking facilities. Using data from eleven cities, Garrett-Peltier finds that bike and pedestrian projects are effective job creation engines, notably more so than investing at similar levels in road construction for cars.

>> Download "Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: A National Study of Employment Impact"

A Plan for a Sustainable U.S. Chemical Industry

May 2011 -- In this report examining the U.S. chemical industry, James Heintz and Robert Pollin show that a shift to the production of chemicals that are safer for workers, the environment, and our health can create jobs and new markets. The industry has shed 300,000 jobs since 1992, and has under-invested in research and development. These job losses, and their continuation under the status quo, are not inevitable. The study finds that shifting the chemical industry towards greater disclosure, appropriate regulation (such as reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act), and long-run sustainability would encourage innovation, support competitiveness, and renew American manufacturing jobs.

>> Download "The Economic Benefits of a Green Chemical Industry in the United States: Renewing Manufacturing Jobs While Protecting Health and the Environment"
>> Download the press release, summary, PowerPoint presentation, or webinar

Employment, Not Tax Rates, Drives Decisions to Move

April 2011 -- As New England continues to struggle with serious budget shortfalls, policymakers face pressure to increase taxes to replenish the coffers. Tax opponents raise the specter of families fleeing for lower-tax states. Jeffrey Thompson finds that taxes have only a very weak effect on cross-state migration. Other factors — primarily employment and family concerns — provide the reasons that families move. And when states use revenues from tax increases to create jobs, any small negative impacts from taxes are swamped by an increase in migrants attracted by those jobs.

>> Download "The Impact of Taxes on Migration in New England" or the state-specific research briefs

A Contract with Poverty in New Haven

March 2011 -- In keeping with the trend of balancing state budgets on the backs of public workers, New Haven is considering outsourcing its public school custodial services to a private firm. Outsourcing would cut the cost of services in half, saving the city $8.1 million, or 19% percent of its deficit. In “Pushing Working Families into Poverty,” Jeannette Wicks-Lim finds that the cost of that savings would be severe: the family of a custodian who continues to work in the New Haven Public Schools would simply no longer be able to make ends meet.

>> Download "Pushing Working Families into Poverty: Assessing the New Haven Plan to Privatize the Public Schools’ Custodial Services"

The Betrayal of Public Workers

February 2011 -- In this article for The Nation, Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson remind us that the recession was caused by Wall Street hyper-speculation, not the pay of school teachers or firefighters, and that public workers are a driver of our economy, not a burden on it. As lawmakers attempt to allow states to declare bankruptcy, effectively canceling obligations to public employees and their pension funds, Pollin and Thompson present more appropriate routes to state fiscal health.

>> Download “The Betrayal of Public Workers”

EITC and Minimum Wage: We Need Both to Make Work Pay

February 2011 -- Jeannette Wicks-Lim writes a column for Spotlight on Poverty on how the EITC and wage floors can be combined for an effective poverty-prevention program.

Download "EITC and Minimum Wage: We Need Both to Make Work Pay"

Full Employment Economic Policies

February 2011 -- Robert Pollin is interviewed in Campus Progress on the policy goal of full employment and steps that can be taken to reach it.

>> Download "Five Minutes with Robert Pollin"

Stop Blaming Immigrants for High Unemployment

January 2011 -- In a working paper co-authored with Jeannette Wicks-Lim, and in a column for New Labor Forum, Robert Pollin considers the charges made by some policymakers and segments of the population that immigrants are to blame for the high rates of unemployment and that immigrants are soaking up government social spending budgets. The evidence he reviews finds that both charges are unsupportable. Pollin and Wicks-Lim present data showing that, as with the years prior to the recession, there is no evidence supporting the idea that immigrants are to blame for the unemployment crisis.   

>> Download “Economic Prospects: Can We Please Stop Blaming Immigrants?”
>> Download the technical note, “Did Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market Make Conditions Worse for Native Workers During the Great Recession?”

Debunking the Structural Unemployment Story

January 2011 -- Jeannette Wicks-Lim and John Miller examine the argument that persistently high unemployment levels are due to a gap in skills and education on the part of workers. Miller & Wicks-Lim look carefully at the data, and conclude that the reality of the situation—widespread job losses and the long, fruitless job searches of experienced workers—is that today’s employment problem is due to a jobs deficit across the economy. Recognizing this would put the focus back on the federal government, which could help to remedy the problem if it had the political will to do so.

>> Read “Unemployment: A Jobs Deficit or a Skills Deficit?”

For earlier PERI research on Labor Markets, Wages & Poverty, please go to the program archive page.